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March 10, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - Carl Pavano
by SG

For the bargain price of $9,000,000, the Yankees got 100 innings of below average pitching from Carl Pavano in 2005. The man that has taken to calling Glass Carl due to his litany of injuries is already behind schedule this year, and not likely to break camp with the team. The cautionary tale of J.R. Richard should give pause to anyone who wants to question a player and their injuries, so that is not something that I feel comfortable doing.

Pavano leveraged a career year in 2004 into a four year contract with the Yankees. Pavano's 2005 is a point in favor of the usefulness of looking at the underlying statistics of a pitcher who has a pretty W-L record and a good ERA, as most projections that focused on his component stats predicted a massive regression.

Pavano actually pitched decently to start the season, starting the season 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA. However, I am convinced that his start on May 17, where he threw 133 pitches in a 6-0 CG shutout eventually led to his injury problems last season. He made one more good start after that, going 7 innings and allowing 1 ER, and from there it got ugly.

Pavano made 7 more starts after May 22. The results?

W-L: 0-4
ERA: 6.46
IP: 39
H: 56
BB: 7
K: 19
HR: 6

Pavano was finally DLed and never returned, although he made a few rehab starts in the minors before shutting it down for the year.

Pavano is a puzzling pitcher to me. From a talent standpoint, he certainly has the stuff to be successful, as the scouting report details.

Velocity no longer is the thing with Pavano, who is far wiser after several surgeries on his throwing arm. He features a 91-94 MPH fastball that he can locate to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He complements the fastball with a tight slider and has a split and a change to keep lefties honest. Pavano's biggest strength is his ability to throw any of those four pitches for strikes in any count. Surprisingly, considering the false starts of his early career, Pavano has become one of the more durable and reliable pitchers in the game.

Further ammunition for those who feel that Pavano's problems are more mental than physical can be found in his home/road splits.

Home 6.89 1 3 9 9 47 73 42 36 33 11 6.32 2.11 3 10 0.354 5.13
Away 2.89 3 3 8 8 53 56 24 17 23 7 3.91 1.19 3.29 7 0.276 4.67

The ERA disparity is stark, but if you look at his FIP, he really didn't pitch that much differently at home or on the road.

Since I did one for everyone else, here's Pavano's ERA vs. FIP over the course of 2005.

Nothing too surprising in this, although it looks an awful lot like my heart rate when Wayne Franklin was about to enter a game. It basically shows that Pavano's early season ERA belied his underlying stastics[sic], but eventually they caught up to each other.

It's pretty safe to say that 2004 was an outlier for Pavano, and that the Yankees overpaid for a guy who is at best a league average starter. His career numbers of 1037.2 innings and an ERA+ (park adjusted ERA vs. league average) of 100 confirm that Pavano is basically a league average starter.

League average is not a bad thing. It's not necessarily worth paying $10 million a year for, but it's valuable. The bigger concern is how often Pavano can pitch.

Pavano pitched 201 and 222.1 innings in 2003 and 2004, and appeared to put his injury problems behind him. The fact that he did not need surgery indicates that his problems last year were not necessarily major, and his injury this spring is not an arm injury, but a back issue. Back issues can linger, but we have no way of knowing how it will affect Pavano in 2006.

Pavano's not a very popular man among the Yankee fans right now, but his upside is higher than Jaret Wright's and Aaron Small's, and the best thing for the Yankees would be his return to health and somewhat reasonable effectiveness. As far as trading him, he won't bring back much, not until he shows he is fully healthy and effective again.

The good news is that Pavano's bad performance last year means he should be able to provide a significant upgrade to himself if he pitches how he is capable of. The projections agree.

Last year, Pavano was responsible for 31 pitching runs created, which made him about 9 runs worse than an average pitcher over his 100 innings. All three projection systems expect a rebound, in both his playing time, and his effectiveness. I'd take the average gladly, 158 innings with a 4.22 ERA.

158 innings of Pavano with his average projections would be worth 64 PRC. 163 innings last year were pitched by Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, and they were worth 43 PRC. That means that if Pavano can pitch 158 innings at this projected rate of production, he'd provide a 2 win upgrade over last year.

The latest out of spring training is very positive.

The Yankees are starting to get excited about Carl Pavano.

"Outstanding," manager Joe Torre said Wednesday after watching Pavano throw a third time off the mound. "Even though he's a little behind [the other pitchers], I think we're way ahead of where we were last year."

Pavano threw all his pitches - fastballs, changeups and one slider. The Yankees are tentatively planning two bullpen sessions, then two or three rounds of batting practice. That could get Pavano into a game in about two weeks with enough time to join the rotation in mid-April, when the Yankees will need a full complement of five starters.

"I felt strong," Pavano said. "They're going to have to be the ones who pull the reins in on me."

Through the projected starting five, I have now accounted for 858 innings and a total PRC of 378, replacing 861 innings from last year's rotation at a total of 359 PRC, or two more wins. There are still about somewhere in the vicinity of 100 innings from starters that will need to be accounted for, as last year's starters pitched 965 innings. Health from Wang, Chacon, or Pavano could take that up, but if not, it'll be up to Jaret Wright and Aaron Small as the first line of defense, with Darrell Rasner, Matt DeSalvo, and Sean Henn waiting in the wings.

Johnny Damon was the key upgrade on the position player side for the Yankees. I think that Carl Pavano is the key piece for the starting rotation, and these numbers seem to confirm it.

Spring Training Notes
Randy Johnson got lit up by the Tigers as half of the Yankees fell, 6-1. Johnson's not worried, so I guess we shouldn't be either.

Even with the poor result, Johnson said he got certain things from the outing, the biggest of which was his velocity, which Yankees manager Joe Torre said got up to 94-95 mph a few times.

"I got my work in today and I'll move on and just continue to try to get better every time I'm out there," Johnson said.

Mariano Rivera made his second appearance of the spring, fanning 3 in one inning, but also allowing former Yankee Marcus Thames to take him over the fence. The better news was the return to the lineup of Gary Sheffield, who played RF and went 0 for 2.

The other half of the Yankees beat the Phillies, 8-3. Eric Duncan had a first inning grand slam, and Matt DeSalvo got the win with a nice little effort.

I just want to echo everyone who's been saying how cool it is to see the Yankee farmhands playing so much. I hope that the success of Cano and Wang last year leads to a revival in the Yankees' interest in promoting from within.

Speaking of kids, Mike from In George We Trust has his top 20 Yankee prospect list up. I invite everyone to check it out and tell him that Christian Garcia is too low.